Institute of Astronomy

Royal Astronomical Society honours leading astronomers

Published on 17/01/2012 

The Royal Astronomical Society has recently announced the recipients of its annual prizes and medals. While the quality of the Institute's research leads to numerous prizes and awards, the RAS announcement is notable for the inclusion of three Institute members as well as a project with substantial Institute participation.

Andy Fabian was awarded the Society's highest honour, the Gold Medal, in recognition of a lifetime's achievement in astrophysics.

Mike Irwin received the premier award for a researcher in observational astrophysics, the Herschel Medal.

Paul Murdin's many contributions to astronomy in the United Kingdom and Europe were recognised through the award of the RAS Service Award.
The UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) received the RAS Project Award.  CASU is responsible for the processing of all UKIDSS data, numerous members of the Institute are members of the Consortium and a senior member of the Institute is a member of the UKIDSS Council.


The citations for the four awards are reproduced below. The full RAS press release is at:

Our warm congratulations go to Andy, Mike and Paul as well as the UKIDSS members.

Paul Hewett

Gold Medal (A): Professor Andy Fabian

This year the Gold Medal for Astronomy is awarded to Andy Fabian OBE FRS, Royal Society Professor at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and Vice-Master of Darwin College, Cambridge. Professor Fabian is recognised for his exceptional contribution to astrophysics over more than four decades. He is best known for his work on black holes and on the gas found in the cores of clusters of galaxies, both of which are strong sources of X-rays.

Beyond this, Professor Fabian has examined the origin of high-energy radiation throughout the Universe and contributed to many other areas of X-ray astronomy. He is the author of more than 850 peer reviewed papers that have attracted more than 44000 citations.

Professor Fabian's contribution to the broader astronomical community has been exemplary, from mentoring early career scientists to working as editor-in-chief for the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. From 2008 to 2010 he was President of the RAS, representing UK astronomers and geophysicists, during a period of severe and growing financial pressure, with distinction and strong leadership.

The recipient of numerous international awards and prizes, Professor Fabian received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2006 in recognition of his services to science.

For all these reasons Professor Fabian is awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Herschel Medal: Dr Mike Irwin

Dr Mike Irwin of the University of Cambridge is awarded the Herschel Medal, which recognises investigations of outstanding merit in observational astrophysics.

Dr Irwin is known worldwide for the leading role he plays in processing of digital optical and infra-red survey data. Since entering research in 1980 he transformed the Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU) into a powerhouse, including handling the majority of new generation surveys from the European Southern Observatory. In 1985 he published an automated method for analysing images where objects are crowded together, the genesis of much of today's image detection and analysis.

Alongside this major technical achievement Dr Irwin has made a series of important contributions to science, for example the 1994 co-discovery of the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy, an object being disrupted by and heading for a future collision with the Milky Way. This led on to galaxies being discovered in the constellations of Sextans, Cetus and Antlia, with a further 15 found in the last 5 years.

Over the last 25 years, his immense body of work has helped to shape modern astronomy and for this Dr Irwin is awarded the 2012 Herschel Medal.

RAS Service Award (A): Professor Paul Murdin

Professor Paul Geoffrey Murdin OBE receives the 2012 RAS award for service to astronomy.

He has made an outstanding contribution to role of astronomy in public life in three areas: as a popular author and broadcaster, as a leader of the Research Councils and as Treasurer of the RAS. In addition Professor Murdin has pursued a healthy research life largely focusing on high energy astrophysics and the properties of objects identified by early X-ray satellites, publishing more than 100 refereed papers.

Throughout his career he has attempted to communicate the excitement of astronomy to a wider audience through popular books; broadcasting in programmes like Radio 4's 'In our time', in frequent interviews on astronomical news stories, in appearances on the 'Sky at Night' and in numerous public lectures. His popularity has its roots in his clear thinking and ability to translate complex physics into everyday language.

Professor Murdin is a past President of the European Astronomical Society (1994-97), a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum (1990-2001), was Head of Operations at the Isaac Newton Group on La Palma (as Head of Operations 1981-87), became Director of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (1991-93) and then took leading roles in the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council's Astronomy programme and the British National Space Centre.

As Treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society Professor Murdin oversaw a growth in the Fellowship from about 2800, a level it had been at for some time, to 3500 at the end of his ten-year tenure. Supported by greater financial strength, the Society took on a wider advocacy role, representing the astronomical community more effectively to government, the public and the Research Councils.

Professor Murdin is visiting professor at Liverpool John Moores University and was awarded the OBE in 1988. The RAS Service Award is a richly deserved acknowledgement of his many years of work on behalf of the entire astronomical community.

RAS Group Award (A): UKIDSS

The United Kingdom Infrared Telescope Sky Survey (UKIDSS) project is awarded the RAS Group Award. The consortium behind the project began their work in 2005 and since that time has published more than 200 refereed papers. Significant science results from UKIDSS include the discovery of a quasar at a redshift of 7 (meaning that the light we detect from it left more than 13 billion years ago) and finding many examples of the new cool T-dwarf objects. Some of the latter are amongst the coolest astronomical objects known.

For the exemplary work in these and many other areas, the UKIDSS consortium receives the 2012 RAS 'A' Group Award.

Page last updated: 9 May 2013 at 19:47